How one rural Bangladeshi woman became a self-sufficient and resilient farmer
Agriculture has always played a dominant role for Bangladesh in the way of socio-economic development. More than 80% of the people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture currently and a significant percentage of farmers are still marginal and landless. These people’s lives and socio-economic conditions are often affected by the impacts of climate change, making them vulnerable.
Various kinds of initiatives have been launched to support vulnerable people such as homestead gardening to increase food production, ensuring nutritional security and generating extra income at the same time. Homestead gardens are classified as a small area of cultivated land adjacent to the home. This is utilized for producing vegetables and fruits, a quite widespread practice in Bangladesh contributing to the food sufficiency of a family.
Despite frequent practice, the scenario is completely different in the coastal belt. Growing vegetables and fruits are not easy and sometimes impossible because of cyclones and their after-effects in this region. The soil remains submerged during certain portions of the year and gets contaminated with salt following saline water intrusion after cyclones.
Mariam Akter Rozina lives at Baropir village under Khaulia Union of Morelganj Upazila, Bagerhat, a village, adjacent to the Sundarbans. She has been living alone with her children since her husband abandoned her. “It is very difficult to live as a single woman in a society like ours,” Rozina said. She belongs to a class of extreme poor, moreover, now she must bear all family responsibilities on her own. Her dwelling gets inundated every year on an average of three to five feet during April to October due to high tide and remains submerged for a minimum of a week with saline water.
“Every year, during the monsoon, my home, and the surrounding area goes into the water and remains submerged more than one week. I cannot live in water with my kids and need to find some temporary place to pass these days,” Rozina said. During this time, every year she and her children move around and look for other places to live as it is impossible to cook and do all other household chores.
Usually when they are temporarily moving her family including her children lives on a nearby embankment with their utensils, and livestock. She is unable to rear duck, hen, goat, sheep, or a cow for a longer period, due to high salinity, furthermore she could not produce household vegetables in her yard, just like other dwellers.
In 2018, Rozina was a part of a study by an international NGO with the support from a national NGO, to explore households that suffer from tidal inundation, waterlogging, and salinity during the summer and rainy season due to multi-dimensional climate-induced disasters. She has been identified as one of the victims, who suffered housing problems, malnutrition, monetary crisis due to tidal inundation, waterlogging, salinity encroachment.
The households were facilitated with a household-level adaptation plan, prepared with the view to promote actions for the households to make them resilient. They were supported with external funds and advisory support for homestead plinth raising considering the highest tidal level.
They were also supported for homestead vegetable gardening through organizing training and workshops. Women farmers were trained in vegetable production and provided with excellent quality vegetable seeds for summer and winter planting. After all this knowledge-sharing training, they were also supported with technical assistance to start the gardening.
After raising the homestead plinth, Rozina had started homestead vegetable gardening and hen rearing with all the support she received. Then she started cow rearing with her initiative. She has been growing red amaranth, onion, garlic, potato, chili, bitter gourd, spinach, ghee Kanchan, turnip, cowpea, sweet gourd for the last two years.
During the last winter season in 2020, she sold winter vegetables for Tk13,300 and the total vegetable selling cost for these two years is Tk48,000 from her homestead gardening. The estimated production cost was only Tk5,600. She has started hen rearing during 2019, starting with just two hens and now increased to 18 hens.
By this time, she had sold 32 hens for Tk9,600 and 123 eggs for Tk984. She started cow rearing with one cow and now she has three cows. Within these two years, she earned Tk1,10,124 which is Tk5,005 on average for each month after fulfilling nutrition and minerals demand for her family consisting of three members. According to Rozina, “Now we can live in our home all the year-round, because of the raised plinth, it has saved us from submerging. I am working and earning all through the year and my family does not have to buy meat, vegetables, and eggs from the market anymore.”
Seclusion and subordination of women are common practices in Bangladeshi society, and most prominent in rural areas. Women have always been engaged in domestic work, caregivers of the child, and expected to play the role of obedient wives. Many rural women are excluded from the information about life outside their homesteads and immediate surroundings. Poverty and illiteracy have contributed more. Women like Rozina set an example of resilience by taking full responsibilities for her family even being a single mother.
Extreme poverty forced Rozina to go outside and earn money. But now Rozina can successfully take care of her family's responsibilities with her earnings. Financial security gives her the position of decision-making in her family and even in society from time to time. Involving more women in agricultural activities like homestead gardens can lead the path toward women empowerment in rural setup. Many marginal women have been contributing to household economic well-being nowadays. “It gives me satisfaction that I can provide a happy and healthy life to my children,” Rozina states.
Mariam Akter Rozina is one of the most successful women farmers in her village. She regularly sells her vegetables, fruits, and eggs. Besides, her family does not need to buy fruit, eggs, and meat. She is a self-sufficient and resilient farmer, who neither needs to move nor is forced to move due to climate-induced disaster. She can recover her situation after any sort of disaster caused by nature or humans.
Moumita Sen is working in Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation as a Junior Programme Officer under Climate Change and DRR, her research interest lies in Urban Disaster. Can be reached at [email protected]